London – In 2013, 19 prisons in the Netherlands closed because the country didn’t have enough criminals to fill them.
Now, five more are slated to close their doors by the end of the summer, according to internal documents obtained by media. While these closures will result in the loss of nearly 2,000 jobs, only 700 of which will transition into other unknown roles within Dutch law enforcement, the trend of closing prisons follows a steady drop in crime since 2004.
The problem of empty jail cells has even gotten to the point where, last September, the country imported 240 prisoners from Norway just to keep the facilities full. Still, according to media report, Justice Minister Ard van der Steur announced to parliament that the cost of maintaining sparsely-filled prisons was cost-prohibitive for the small country.
A number of factors underlie the Netherlands’ ability to keep its crime rate so low, namely, relaxed drug laws, a focus on rehabilitation over punishment, and an electronic ankle monitoring system that allows people to re-enter the workforce.
A study published in 2008 found the ankle monitoring system reduced the recidivism rate by up to half compared to traditional incarceration. Instead of wasting away in a jail cell, eating up federal dollars, convicted criminals are given the opportunity to contribute to society.
These measures all add up to an unbelievably low incarceration rate: Although the Netherlands has a population of 17 million, only 11,600 people are locked up. That’s a rate of 69 incarcerations per 100,000 people.
The US, meanwhile, has a rate of 716 per 100,000 — the highest in the world. It’s marked largely by its lack of attention to social services and rehabilitation programs once prisoners finish their sentences. Without a safety net to give them any other options, many fall back into their old habits.